Thea: The Awakening Interview: Bringing A New Perspective to Survival Horror

Posted October 29, 2014 by John Clark in Video Games

Shortly after leaving CD Projekt Red, the studio known for making the Witcher series, Mila Irek and her team at MuHa Games began leveraging their freedom towards a new kind of game. Though their upcoming Kickstarter title, Thea: The Awakening draws inspiration from Slavic mythology much in the way that the Witcher universe does, this survival-strategy game couldn’t be more different from their previous efforts. We spoke with Mila about the game, its influences, and what inspired them to strike out on their own.


We The Nerdy: First off, I’d love to hear from you what Thea: The Awakening is all about. How would you describe what makes the game unique?

Mila Irek: Well to answer that, I’ll start with how it all came about. So we wanted to make a survival game, that was the basic concept, but the team is diverse and we all have different tastes and interests. We quickly discarded the ‘one man against the world’ trope and we agreed that our game would not be action-survival. Then the idea came: what if it’s a whole village that has to survive some post-apocalyptic environment? We all loved it. The next step was to choose the genre of the setting. Most survival games we know of tend to go towards a pseudo earth, or one that has undergone a disaster, or a futuristic vision of otherworlds, and in all honesty, this was a direction we almost took. But, not wanting to discard any options early on, we also played with the idea of fantasy, and the idea of downtrodden villagers in a pseudo medievalist setting, struggling against such classics as ogres or trolls,  grew on us very fast. We then decided to utilise our unique knowledge of the Slavic folklore and Myth, to make our fantasy a bit more interesting.

We soon realised that the combination of fantasy , strategy and survival game is a rare one, and so Thea was born. Thea: The Awakening gives our players the unique chance to survive in a gritty dark fantasy world, inspired by, little known,  Slavic Myths, while also enjoying a strategic and tactical gameplay, complex crafting system and managing your own village, all in the guise of a God!
WTN: In what ways does the game mix elements of survival and turn-based strategy?

MI: The world of Thea is a postapocalyptic landscape, wrought with many bloodthirsty dangers, but also deprived of basic resources and prone to disease and natural disasters. Your people will strive to survive on many levels, battling curses, lack of vital materials, and enemy attacks. The game will have short, dynamic playthroughs, where your people die out many times before you start getting it right (each playthrough, even ending with annihilation, will give you bonuses towards the next game), and so this is another aspect of the survival tropes, where you struggle just to keep hydrated and fed.

 On the other hand, turn based gameplay means that the players may take their time thinking what action would be more appropriate to take; there is nothing rushing their decisions. These decisions won’t be easy though – it’s a tough call whether to go and hunt for food first, prepare defences before nightfall or gather wood to keep the settlement fire from going out. Adding the management of a settlement, rather than a single character, means the game is much more tactical as well, as you need to consider the lives of several people and the village itself, not to mention mankind as a whole. 
So in short, provides the limited resources and dark dangerous world of survival games, with a tactical turn based gameplay that lets you plan ahead and carefully consider each action you take. This also means that the consequences of your choices may not always be apparent straight away, but equally, some long term plans may come to fruition with careful thought.
WTN: Would you say that any existing survival or strategy games served as influence for Thea?
 MI: Of course. Nothing is created in a vacuum and so there are many influences that inspire our work. As far as games go, we’ve been compared to Civilisation, due to to the isometric view and our hexagonal map, so that was certainly our benchmark for quality as well as inspiration. When it comes to survival games Neo Scavenger is what we’d call a survival game to the bone – you’re happy if you find a shoe or a piece of scrap and you really struggle to make it. It also has a great crafting system based on tags, and that’s something that we definitely used. FTL, which plays in bursts and you get progress form one game to another,  something we’re looking to carry over to Thea. And finally, Don’t Starve, which is also an excellent survival game, with great art style and very ‘moody’ setting, so it was an inspiration all around.
And I’d like to add that our setting, apart from Slavic myth and classics of fantasy,  was deeply inspired by the works of Andrzej Sapkowki and his Witcher series, as well as the RPG system of Earthdown, which shares our postapocalyptic fantasy world view.
WTN: Some of your team actually worked on the Witcher games, didn’t they? What made you decide to pursue an independent project?
 MI: In short, passion and freedom are the two reasons we wanted to make our own game, and I cringe saying it aloud! Working for an AAA title has its own, wonderful rewards, including buckets of valuable experience and knowledge, and the satisfaction of a big title out in the world. The Witcher for example, has become a huge name, and working with CD Projekt Red is certainly not to be scoffed at!  However, as anyone who’s worked in a large company knows, you pay for these rewards with certain restrictions, including limits on your expression and creativity. I am in no  way saying that AAA is not creative, only that you are one bolt in a huge machine, and this means your voice is often stifled.
So making our own games has been MuHa’s dream and passion for four years now, slowly building up to making a bigger title, like Thea. Now, our team has been in the business long enough not be under the illusion that indie games are a promised land with no restrictions, after all, small team size and limited budget create their own shackles. There is, however,  an undeniable magic to making your own game the way you want it and dealing with all the trouble and turbulence of game dev with only your good will and determination of a bunch of crazies that are your friends!
 WTN: We really appreciate all the information you’ve given us about Thea so far. Is there anything else you’d like to share before we let you go?
MI: We’ve just revealed the design of our card minigame, which has been of some interest to our fans, so I will just add a few words on that. So we wanted our events and combat to be exciting and different, and since our team has worked on card games in the big AAA titles, we also decided to use that expertise. So we’ve created a simple, yet hopefully interesting minigame, where the player will have really think tactically when resolving any event, including talking or a disease that hit his/her village. In any case, you can check out full details on our Kickstarter page.

About the Author

John Clark